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Building Blocks of Baking: The Basics

Basic Baking Guide
Do you love to bake but often come up with a question when there is no one around to help? We’ve gathered a group of baking experts including authors, chefs and even a food scientist to answer frequently asked questions (FAQs). They’ll tell you what can happen and why.

 Check out our FAQ's and expert tips in the following categories to become a baking pro:

 almond crescents  Cake Making 101  How to Hold a Bake Sale  Building Blocks of Baking  Bisquick Mix - Biscuits, Quick and Easy Meals

Tips for Baking Cookies and Brownies

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Q. How come my cookies spread during baking?

A. Ah, yes, the dreaded spread. Hot cookie sheets melt the butter in your dough right away, so sheets should be room temperature or cooler before dropping on your dough.

        Mexican Expert Tips

  • Keep at least four baking sheets on hand so that you have 2 in the oven and 2 that are cool and ready to go. Once you’ve removed a batch, run the sheet under cold water to quickly cool them down. Dry and prepare for the next batch.

  • Let the dough “rest” in the refrigerator before baking the cookies. The cooler the dough is when it goes into the oven the less the cookies will spread.

  • Cookies made with butter are super-rich and delicious, but baking with butter can be tricky because it melts quickly. You’ll get the same richness and taste by substituting half the butter with shortening.

  • We know Mom always greased the sheet, but do NOT grease the baking sheet unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Parchment and baking mats are a godsend; find them at The Betty Crocker Store.

Q. Why do my cookies burn on the bottom before they’re done?

A.  Burned cookies on the bottom is a common problem. First, make sure you are using the middle rack of the oven; it could be that the cookie sheets are too close to the heat source.

        Hand Shaped CookiesExpert Tips

  • Use the best baking sheets, such as insulated shiny aluminum baking sheets. They help diffuse the heat and prevent cookies from turning too dark.

  • Check your actual oven temperature with a good oven thermometer; don’t rely on the oven dial… believe it or not, every oven can be a bit different.

Q. Why are my cookies hard?

A. Baking is all about simple details. Just be sure to use a liquid measuring cup (glass with a pour spout) for liquids and dry measuring cups for flour and dry ingredients.

        SugaryExpert Tips

  • Spoon the flour lightly into the dry measuring cup and level it off with a straight edge of knife (DO NOT dip your cup into the flour, or shake or tap the flour. The goal: Don’t pack it down; you’ll end up with too much flour.).

  • As for sifting: Gold Medal Enriched Bleached Pre-sifted AND All-Purpose Flours do not require sifting (it’s been done for you).  HOWEVER, if you are using a special recipe with intricate steps that specifies sifting, it certainly won’t hurt.

Q. Why do my brownies stick to the pan and fall apart as I’m taking them out?

A. Unlike cookies, you need to grease brownie pans—including up the sides. Our choice is shortening. It spreads smoothly and evenly (won’t puddle or pool) and tolerates heat better than butter, which tends to burn.

        Tips for Baking Brownies and BarsExpert Tip

  • For perfect brownies, allow them to cool (in the pan) on a wire rack, to room temperature, at least 2 hours. This allows the pan to cool completely, the brownies to cease cooking, and it gives the flour time to fully absorb the melted chocolate and butter so that the bars firm up.

Shortcut Tip From the Experts

For instant wow, try Betty Crocker® Cookie Mix and Betty Crocker® Supreme Brownie Mix.

Top Cookie & Brownie Recipes

Baking Guide  Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies  Brownie Goody Bars  Peanut Butter Cookies  Ultimate Turtle Brownies 

Peanut Butter
Truffle Brownies 

Ultimate Chocolate
Chip Cookies

Brownie Goody
Bars
 

Peanut Butter
Cookies
 

Ultimate Turtle
Brownies
 

 

Tips for Baking Cakes

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Q. Why are my cakes sometimes so tough?

A. Here’s where flour can make a BIG difference. We rely on bleached, all-purpose, pre-sifted flour for the best results. Bleached, all-purpose flour like Gold Medal is pure white to make buttery pound cakes and light, fluffy angel food cakes. (Unbleached flour has a higher protein content, so it is a good choice for breads but not for cakes).

Q. What makes my cakes heavy?

A. Pound cakes are meant to be rich and dense. But, if your birthday or Bundt cakes are heavy, too dry, or tough, measuring may be the issue. Too much liquid yields a heavy, over-moist cake; too little and it’s dry. Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients and liquid measuring cups for liquids. Get them at The Betty Crocker Store.

Q. Any tips for making my cakes lighter?

A. Creaming is key to light, tender cakes. Simply whip together the butter and the sugar until they are golden and light (creamy).

        Easy Frosting Tips for Layered CakesExpert Tip

  • Start on a low speed to mix the ingredients together thoroughly and then switch to medium speed. Scrape the sides down occasionally to be sure every little bit is incorporated. Senior Food Scientist Kevin Ryan says, “I get the mixer going, and walk away for about 8 to 10 minutes to be sure it’s really fluffy and light.”

Q. How can I keep my angel food and chiffon cakes from seeming rubbery?

A. Keep your eye on the eggs. The secret is to start with a clean, dry bowl and beaters so the egg whites beat properly. Even a speck of fat from an egg yolk will keep egg whites from whipping up.

        How to Frost a CakeExpert Tips

  • Be sure to beat the whites until they are stiff and glossy (they should stand up straight and look shiny. Do not overbeat!).

  • Fold the sugar-flour mixture into the beaten egg white mixture using a rubber spatula with a very gentle hand.

  • To guarantee the most heavenly angel food, use Betty Crocker Angel Food White Cake Mix.

Shortcut Tip From the Experts

For instant wow try our delicious Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® Cake Mixes.

Top Cake Recipes

Praline Pumpkin Cake  Tres Leches Cake  Banana Split Cake  Ultimate Carrot Cake  Chocolate Lover's Dream Cake 

Praline-Pumpkin
Cake

Tres Leches
Cake

Banana Split
Cake

Ultimate Carrot
Cake

Chocolate Lover's
Dream Cake
 

 

Tips for Baking Pies

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Q. How do I get an even, brown and flaky crust?

A. For the best pies, use a glass pie plate so you can see through the glass and tell if the crust has browned.  But it’s not just about the view—glass is less efficient at conducting heat than aluminum, so the crust bakes more slowly, allowing it to firm up as the filling bakes, too. Get them at The Betty Crocker Store.

Q. How do I keep my crusts from becoming too soggy?

A. The culprit?  The pan. Shiny pie pans reflect heat so that the crust never really has a chance to brown or become firm. Use glass pie plates (see above) or those with a dull (anodized) finish.

        Fruit PiesExpert Tips

  • Try “baking blind.” That means pre-baking the crust before it is filled until it is golden.

  • “Wash” the crust with a beaten egg white before you add the filling. This creates a protective layer.

  • Fruit pies, especially those made with juicy berries, will be a bit runny. No crust will hold a juicy filling long, so eat ’em up right away.

Q. How do I keep my piecrusts from tearing and shrinking?

A. Shrinking and tearing tends to happen when the dough is stretched too much while lifting the dough to place it into the pie plate. Fold the pastry into 4ths; place in the pie plate with the point in the center. Then, unfold the dough and ease it into the plate, being careful not to stretch it.

        How to Make Pie CrustExpert Tip

  • Some bakers roll the pastry loosely around a rolling pin then unroll it onto the pie plate

Q. Why are my crusts tough?

A. Water and flour may be to blame. Too much of either creates tough dough. Also, over- mixing activates the gluten in the flour, which will also make the dough tough.

Q. Why does the meringue on the top of my pie droop?

A. Meringues are dry and airy so they act like a sponge, drawing moisture from the layer of lemon below. Make sure the meringue is fully baked and try and keep it in as dry a place as possible before serving.


Shortcut Tip from the Experts


For your convenience try Pillsbury® Refrigerated Pie Crusts.

Top Pie Recipes

Baking Guide  Scrumptious Apple Pie  Lemon Meringue Pie  Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle Pie  Pumpkin Pie 

Blueberry Raspberry
Lattice Pie 

Scrumptious
Apple Pie
 

Lemon Meringue
Pie 

Chocolate Peanut
Butter Pie
 

Pumpkin
Pie 

 

Tips for Baking Muffins and Quick Breads

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Q. How come I get air tunnels in my muffins?

A. We like our muffins to be tender and light with tiny holes and an even texture. The secret? Use a light hand and DO NOT over mix. The dry and wet ingredients don’t need to be completely combined.

        Brunch MuffinExpert Tips

  • Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer. If the oven is too hot, or the muffins have been baked too long, they may become dry.

  • It could be that your measurements are off. Measure dry ingredients with a dry measuring cup and wet ingredients with a liquid measuring cup.

Q. Why is my banana bread so heavy?

A. It’s hard to waste bananas, right? Sometimes, we try and sneak a few extra into the batter, just to use them up and add more flavor. Don’t. Too many bananas make the bread heavy and soggy.

        Banana Breads and MoreExpert Tip

  • For extra banana taste, first roast the bananas (skin on) in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes before adding to the batter.

Q. Why are my quick breads so flat?

A. If you’re using that opened box of baking soda in the refrigerator or a can of baking soda from 1999, that could be the culprit. Check the expiration dates because leavenings (baking soda and baking powder) lose their oomph after they’ve been opened for more than a month.

        Baking and Cooking at High Altitudes Expert Tip

  • While you’re cleaning out expired leavening, pitch the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves that are more than a year old. After a year, their delicious flavor has dissipated.

Q. Why do the centers of my quick breads sink?

A. Sounds odd, but too much leavening can have a reverse effect. Measure carefully, and as a rule of thumb, use only 1 teaspoon of leavening per cup of flour.

Shortcut Tip From the Experts

Try all of our delicious Betty Crocker Muffin and Quick Bread Mixes.

Top Muffin & Quick Bread Recipes

Building Blocks of Baking  Banana Bread  Baking Guide  Cranberry Bread  Banana-Cinnamon Muffins 

Whole-Wheat
Blueberry Muffins
 

Banana
Bread

Double-Chocolate
Muffins
 

Cranberry
Bread
 

Banana-Cinnamon
Muffins
 

Tips for Biscuits

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Q. Why are my biscuits like hockey pucks?

A. Tender biscuits need TLC and the right tools. Use a pastry cutter (such as our pick at The Betty Crocker Store.) to cut shortening into the flour; you can work quickly and it will keep the butter from becoming too soft.

        Making Homemade BiscuitsExpert Tips

  • Flour is key. Use bleached all-purpose flour like Gold Medal. It’s lower in protein (and gluten) for tender lighter biscuits.
  • To make the flour even lighter, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to a cup of flour for a softer texture.

Shortcut Tip from the Experts

Try Bisquick® Mix for your next batch of biscuits, or for more convenience, Pillsbury Grands!® Biscuits.

Top Biscuit Recipes

Baking Guide  Biscuits  Cheese-Garlic Biscuits  Parmesan-Herb Biscuits  Easy Cream Biscuits 

Self-Rising
Biscuits
 

Biscuits 

Cheese-Garlic
Biscuits
 

Parmesan-Herb
Biscuits
 

Easy Cream
Biscuits
 

More Baking Tips from Betty Crocker 

Baking Shortcuts
Conversions & Substitutions
Healthy Baking Tips 

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1 - 1 of 1 Comments
KaplanHelena said: Posted: 9/22/2014 8:14 PM
Why do you have to use the middle rack for baking cookies and brownies
 
1 - 1 of 1 Comments
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